Man finds freedom with new heart

By Anna Carrera

Published 07/04 2014 05:34PM

Updated 07/08 2014 11:32AM

CHAMPAIGN -- People have different reasons for celebrating the Fourth of July. For one man, it's just about being alive. He walked in the Freedom Celebration 5K Friday morning. The walk itself was only about three miles long, but it represents a much longer journey that Perry West is just now starting.

Standing and walking are two things many of us take for granted, but not West.

"Two years ago at this time, I couldn't walk fifteen feet," said West. "I was diagnosed with cancer from Agent Orange out of Vietnam many years ago. And it was the chemo from that that ended up killing the bottom of my left heart."

Even though his heart was struggling, he had his family by his side. Together they waited for help.

"Twenty months later, I ended up getting a heart transplant," said West. "That's how long of a wait there is for organs and stuff."

That surgery happened just three months ago. And with his new heart, a new strength is starting to show.

"I have kicked around a soccer ball with my grandson which I've never been able to do so it's really nice," said West. "It's a lot of freedom."

Freedom is a word many people celebrate on the Fourth of July. That's all West needed to line up with hundreds of others in front of Memorial Stadium.

"I can do anything I want to do," said West. "That's one of the reasons I'm walking a 5K. I've never walked one in my life, but I decided it was time to do that."

After West found out about his heart problem, he started going on walks in the morning. That's what he did Friday too. With every step he took, he wanted to raise awareness for organ donation.

"It really works," said West. "It's a wonderful thing."

His family stood at the finish line, waiting for him to cross. And he did.

"My legs are a little tender, but it was good," said West.

But the end of this race is really just another beginning. And West is excited to see what his future will hold.

West doesn't know much about whomever gave him his new heart, except that person was about half his age. But he says he's grateful for this chance to tell more people about his story.

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